Meet the Pixel phones, Google's homegrown answer to the iPhone - Stuff

Meet the Pixel phones, Google’s homegrown answer to the iPhone

Meet the Pixel phones, Google’s homegrown answer to the iPhone

Google today unveiled its new Pixel smartphones, and in doing so made it clear it wants the Apple-like control over hardware and software that has long made the iPhone the darling of mobile developers. There’ll be two Pixel devices to choose from, a 5in model and a larger 5.5in Pixel XL, but aside from the different screen sizes and resolutions, and the XL packing a bigger battery, on the specs front they’re essentially the same devices.

The Pixels include a 12.3MP rear camera with an f/2.0 aperture that’ll shoot 4K video at 30fps, and Google is at pains to talk about how incredible a camera it is. “Our team of photography gurus and image processing experts have spent the last year designing and tirelessly optimising our entire camera stack,” the company says in a release on its blog. The front-facing camera on each device is an 8MP f2.4 affair that’ll also handle full HD video at 30fps.

Where we’re going we don’t need storage

You can choose between 32GB or 128GB of internal storage with no option to expand it via microSD. That’s a very Apple-like move, and one we don’t care for. A 64GB option in the middle and microSD slot would’ve been preferable. There’s 4GB of RAM, though, and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821 quad-core processor does the heavy lifting while an Adreno 530 handles GPU duties. Both devices include the necessary for myriad LTE bands, Bluetooth 4.2, most major Wi-Fi standards, NFC and both GPS and GLONASS for positioning.google-pixel-phonesGoogle’s jumped on the USB Type-C wagon for cabled connections (USB 3.0) and charging, has kept the 3.5mm audio cable Apple’s ditched in the latest iPhones (which it pointedly highlighted in its presentation and the video below), and weather fans will be pleased to hear there’s a barometer among the slew of included sensors. There’s no support for wireless charging, sadly, but your consolation prize is IP53 waterproofing.

A rose gold phone by any other name

Both handsets will come in three colour options, the ludicrously named Very Silver, Quite Black and Really Blue (with the latter only being available in the US at first).

As for their differences, the 5in Pixel has a screen resolution of 1920×1080 (for a pixel density of 441ppi) and a 2770mAh battery, while the 5.5in version gets screen res of 2560×1440 (534ppi) and a 3450mAh battery. And in keeping with the mobile industry’s move to faster charging rather than bigger or better batteries, Google says both Pixel devices will be able to get up to seven hours of juice in just 15 minutes of charge time.

Made in… Taiwan

Despite Google’s new “Made by Google” designation that its keen to remind us of, both Pixel devices will actually be manufactured by HTC. That’s not a bad thing. The Taiwanese hardware maker has consistently produced solid hardware… it just hasn’t been very good at marketing, selling or supporting it, especially when compared to the likes of Samsung and, to a far lesser extent, LG.

Does that mean the Pixel is really just the latest Nexus device? Nope, because the Nexus devices were always a side hustle for Google, one that saw them letting each major Android manufacturer have a turn at creating a device in partnership with Google that would get the latest Android updates first and serve as something of a poster child for Android, but which was still ultimately a Huawei, LG, HTC or whatever.

The Pixel is Google taking the reins completely. And who can blame HTC for letting it? On the upside, this also means Google Assistant (which arrived with Google’s messaging app Allo) will be baked into the Pixel device, as will Google Photos. In fact, Google will let Pixel owners upload unlimited, full-res images to Google Photos as further incentive to ditch other Android makers for Google’s own, endorsed handsets.

Make no mistake, Google wants control. No more hoping hardware manufacturers will do what it wants them to. No more compromises. HTC may be putting the bits together, but Google’s cracking the whip every step of the way. Will that make for a better end-user experience? Almost definitely.

And it’s definitely going to mean a slick mobile VR experience. Alongside the Pixel, Google’s taken the wrappers off its virtual reality play, Daydream VR, which the new devices are designed to work with. It’s not just Apple that Google has in its sights, its Samsung, too.

Not cheap, but cheerful

As for pricing, Google’s only said it starts at $649, which means that’s the price for the 32GB 5in Pixel. That’s R9,000 at todays exchange rate, and doesn’t allow for import duties or other markups we’ll doubtless see, so expect it to be nearer R12,000 by the time it actually goes on sale here. That’s a substation chunk of lunch money, but it’s still a lot less than the going rate for the new iPhones or the latest Samsung flagships.

Craig was Stuff magazine's editor until September 2019. He also provided tech analysis and commentary for TV stations like eNCA, CNBC Africa and BusinessDay TV, and radio stations like 702, CapeTalk, PowerFM, MetroFM and Classic FM. He now lives in New York, and is 5FM's tech correspondent for its (tech)5 segment that airs every Wednesday at 12h40. You can reach him on me@craigwilson.net

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